Unaccompanied children no longer to suffer effects of `Gentleman’s Agreement’
A report issued by Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England, has revealed that an agreement in existence between the UK and France regarding the treatment of unaccompanied children entering the country was in conflict with the UK Border Agency's (UKBA) duty to safeguard children and promote their welfare.
It also uncovered excessive periods of detention prior to release into local authority care due to the number and length of immigration interviews undertaken at the point of arrival.
The 'Landing in Dover' report results from an investigation by the Office of the Children's Commissioner (OCC) into the treatment of unaccompanied children asylum seekers when they first arrive in the UK. It has already led to changes in the way UKBA treats children seeking asylum.
The 'Gentleman's Agreement' enabled unaccompanied children to be sent back to France within 24 hours if they did not immediately ask for asylum. This resulted in a significant failure of child protection. Just over 1,700 unaccompanied children that entered the country in 2010 sought asylum, whilst a number of those returned to France under the Gentleman's Agreement may have been trafficked for exploitation. Investigations by OCC have found children seeking asylum include those escaping war zones and persecution. They are often hungry, ill, exhausted and distressed when they first arrive.
Once the Children's Commissioner brought the Agreement to the attention of Rob Whiteman, UKBA's new Chief Executive, he ended the practice in respect of children immediately.
Other recommendations in the report which aim to improve the immigration process for children include:
- Using face to face interpreters and stopping the use of telephone interpreters for interviews other than for gathering basic details about the child's identity.
- Exploring ways in which the police can gather bio-data such as finger prints on UKBA's behalf when they are the first agency to encounter children who have just entered. This would enable them to arrange for the child to go directly into local authority care rather than to the immigration office for processing.
- Ensuring that when immigration interviews do take place that the child has had the chance to gain support from a legal representative and that their representative is able to accompany them, along with a Responsible Adult, to the interviews.